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"A Man Escaped": As Noirish As It Gets 

Wednesday, Mar 18 2015
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Poise seems like the basic essence of Robert Bresson, that ascetic French master whose film A Man Escaped, from 1956, depicts a methodical Mozart-scored jailbreak. Noir-wise, Bresson probably isn't the first name you think of, but that makes it all the more exciting to find him first in the queue Thursday evening for the Roxie's 15-film series A Rare Noir Is Good to Find. In a genre so often characterized by potboilers full of dupes coming unglued, A Man Escaped offers instead a protagonist chiseled down to pure, purposeful resilience. And come to think of it, the Bressonian clarity of narrative drive seems as absolutely noirish as the will to bust out of a Nazi prison seems universally, if retrospectively, relatable. Retrospect looms cynically large in this series of 15 films from 10 countries, some of whose says-it-all titles include There's Always a Price Tag (France, 1957); Underworld Beauty (Japan, 1958); Sin Alley (Denmark, 1957); and Assault on the Pay Train (Brazil, 1962). But it's coolly comforting to recall how the innocence that lay shattered in the wake of World War II wasn't America's alone — just as it's heartening to rediscover the improbable beauty within the bleak scenario of A Man Escaped. Of course the "rarity" of Bresson's film is a point you could nitpick — it's in the Criterion Collection, after all, and on Hulu — but big-screen sightings are indeed hard to come by, and also rare in the sense of being precious.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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